Kiki Dimoula, one of Greece’s preeminent poets, is just now being comprehensively translated into English for the first time thanks to the exemplary Margellos World Republic of Letters series at Yale University Press, an endowed series made possible by Cecile and Theodore Margellos to bring important works of world literature into English. They have already provided us with lovely and much discussed editions of Adonis, Gombrowicz, Saba, and Can Xue, among many others. Cecile Margellos herself, a Greek native, shepherded these translations into print.
Kiki Dimoula was born in in 1931 and published her first book of poems in 1956. She is the third woman ever to be inducted into the Academy of Athens, a nice honor. These translations are by Cecille Inglessis Margellos and Rika Lesser.
Let’s read these poems, with their whiff of toppled marble, in a spirit of gratitude for the bounties of Greece, a country that has brought us so much and now suffers so terribly.
Lower Class (III)
Nightingales guide my hearing
through May’s wildflower mosaic.
The Temple of Hera, the Nymphaeum of Herodes, the Prytaneion.
See how much prehistory a tiny bit of the present has crushed.
Disproportion’s civilizations and tombs
are topsy-turvy in my mind.
I forget in which of their annihilations
so many illustrious dates made their camps,
when power was proclaimed the ultimate goal,
I always confuse whatever happened prior to my existence
with as-if-it-hadn’t-happened. After we cease to exist
mark my words
my confusion will prove prophetic.
I better comprehend
the stones scattered all around
as they were, anonymous, brought to light by the excavation,
parts of some wholeness–
no one knows which lower level
of earth it went under.
To me their lost meaning is familiar.
I comfort them by inscribing them
as the branches’ faint movements inscribe
the scattered spring air:
Fragment of a fugitive slave tomb
unfinished epitaph of a beardless triumph
small lowest stair of a one-storey hetaera
window sill on which
a virtuous large-leafed home was sunning its plant
and this one here I’m sitting on—
a sidewalk for insects and shadowy conjectures.
Where would my own uninscribed defeats
lie scattered, I wonder.
Was I defeated while fighting or while passing by?
Translated by Rika Lesser and Cecille Inglessis Margellos
“Lower Class (III)” will appear in The Brazen Plagiarist, to be published next month by the Margellos World Republic of Letters series at Yale. Watch for more Kiki Dimoula on Little Star.
Excerpted from The Brazen Plagiarist , by Kiki Dimoula, in the Margellos World Republic of Letters series, published by Yale University Press. Copyright © 2012 by Kiki Dimoula. Reprinted by permission. For more information, www.margellosworldrepublicofletters.com